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Preventing & Controlling Asthma

April 3, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today, we're talking about preventing and controlling asthma. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today, we're speaking with Dr. David Buys, state health specialist for Mississippi State University Extension. Dr. Buys, thank you for joining me today.

David Buys: Thanks Amy, I appreciate you having me. It's great to be back with you and our listeners.

Amy Myers: Awareness for asthma is really important. What exactly is asthma?

David Buys: The short answer is that asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that inflames and narrows the airways and causes these recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. Imagine breathing normally, just like we're doing right now sitting here, and all of a sudden we start to feel an attack coming on. We go from breathing normally to breathing only through our mouth. So, we're holding our nose. And then we go from breathing, holding our nose, to just breathing through a regular straw. And then it continues to get worse. Our airways tighten, and then we move from breathing through that regular straw to just breathing through a small coffee stirrer, and we're still holding our nose, mind you, so no other air is getting in. Imagine then doing that while you're jogging. How intense would that be? It's pretty frightening. It's a scary thing when an asthma attack happens. It certainly is serious, and it can actually be life threatening in many cases.

Amy Myers: Yes, that does sound horrible. Now, is there a cure for asthma?

David Buys: Unfortunately, there's not. Once you've got asthma, you've got asthma. The good news is that it can be controlled through medical treatment and through management of what we call environmental triggers that might cause asthma.

Amy Myers: Well, that's not great news. But, I guess you have to take the good with the bad. Who gets asthma?

David Buys: Asthma attacks people of all walks of life. All ethnic groups, men and women, young and old. People who live in cities and those who live in the country. It doesn't really matter where you live or who you are. It's common among children and teens. About three students in an average classroom size of 30 have asthma. So, about 10%. In Mississippi, the rate's about the same, but our outcomes related to asthma are worse than the national average. That's where we're really at a disadvantage. We don't really know why some people develop asthma and others don't, but we do know that it's a combination of your family history and the environment.

Amy Myers: You say it's a combination of family history and the environment. Talk to me about the environment. What can we change about our environment to keep asthma at bay?

David Buys: Amy, I'm gonna say something I say frequently when I'm on the show with you, and that's an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Benjamin Franklin would appreciate me bringing that up again. There are a lot of triggers in the environment, and preventing asthma is really our best bet. These triggers in the environment can include things like dust mites, molds, cockroaches, and pests. Pets and the dander from pets. Nitrogen dioxide. Outdoor air pollution that could get into the house or that we could be exposed to while we're outside. Chemical irritants that might be in commercially made cleaners. And wood smoke. They're different for everybody, so there's not a single thing that we can eliminate and just do away with asthma. But, we recommend several strategies to keep all those possible environmental triggers at a distance. We call these the seven principles of healthy homes. That's keep it dry, keep it clean, keep it pest free, keep it ventilated, keep it safe, keep it contaminate free, and keep it maintained. It's very important to talk to your healthcare provider. Your physician, your nurse practitioner, your physician's assistant about asthma. If your child has asthma, be sure to be in touch with their school nurse or someone else at the school who can help in case of an attack.

Amy Myers: You're basically saying that we need to try to prevent asthma by following those seven principles and that they may also help prevent asthma attacks for those who may have it. Is that right?

David Buys: Yeah, you're right. You're exactly right, Amy. Again, if you or someone you love has asthma, stay in touch with your healthcare provider and your school nurse or another personnel there at the school. I can't overstate the importance of both controlling the environment and having that medical treatment, staying in touch with your healthcare providers.

Amy Myers: Thank you, Dr. Buys. Any concluding remarks?

David Buys: I'd be in trouble with myself if I let the opportunity slip by and didn't mention our healthy homes initiative that we have here at the Mississippi State University Extension. We have agents across the state who are trained to deliver workshops on healthy homes. I would just ask our listeners to check out our web page at

Amy Myers: Today, we've been speaking with Dr. David Buys, health specialist. I'm Amy Myers and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion

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